Stop and Go: My Post-Sandy Love Letter to NYC

Now that I’m a Sandy survivor, I wanted to offer my experience, and even my prayers, to the city and people I love so much.

A disaster is one terrible thing.

It’s the aftermath that drags on.  And it’s not easy.

I pray for people in the Rockaways, Staten Island, and the Jersey shore.   May you recover quickly, and may you be spared disaster tourists — people who inexplicably visit your neighborhood to look at your pain.

May those who wish to volunteer take the time to pause, understand, and find pathways to useful efforts.

Early on, I heard from someone on the ground in the Rockways, saying that if we were coming, we should bring halligans: a clue that my services wouldn’t be needed on site.

You may find higher uses for your talents closer to home.   Consider writing a check: research shows that you can offer powerful help in this way.

And if you will, join me in wishing that mom and pops won’t chase the inevitable business aid programs that will be forthcoming, all with good intentions.

For months after 9/11, I volunteered with an aid organization.  I talked with hundreds of business owners about their applications.  Few qualified.

One rare company I know received grant funding, only to fold a few years later.  The neighborhood saw a protracted, discontinuous period of change; few small businesses remained and survived.

We offer the best kind of aid when we buy from affected businesses.  (This goes for local service providers and freelancers your business works with, too.)

After more than 11 years, we’re still remediating the physical impact of World Trade Center attacks.   May our leaders swiftly reach agreement how to rebuild our hardest hit areas.

And may leaders of every organization see the full meaning of “It could have been worse.”

I didn’t lose loved ones.  I was only out of my house for 10 days.  I have a place to live.  I only lost the contents of my refrigerator.

“It could have been worse,” contains gratitude.

It also contains denial.

I’m tough.  I’m a New Yorker.  Always a survivor, never a victim.  Naturally, I didn’t want to voice my own stress.

Then, a retired first responder told me that Sandy’s aftermath felt like 9/11 to him.  I said, “Yes.”

Leaders, you will see this stress in your workplace.

Maybe your business had to relocate, or people had to work remotely.  Maybe some of your storm-displaced workers couldn’t participate.

Maybe a loved one is now homeless, as a man packing my groceries told me.  You may have missed deadlines for clients who aren’t local, as a founder described when we met at a phone-charging station downtown.

Research shows that emotions are contagious.   Whenever it could have been worse, we’re all affected by everything we share.

What can you do?   Talk to your people — here’s a place to start.

Symptoms of disaster distress, via SAMHSA website:

  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Stomachaches or headaches
  • Anger, feeling edgy or lashing out at others
  • Overwhelming sadness
  • Worrying a lot of the time; feeling guilty but not sure why
  • Feeling like you have to keep busy
  • Lack of energy or always feeling tired
  • Drinking alcohol, smoking or using tobacco more than usual; using illegal drugs
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Not connecting with others
  • Feeling like you won’t ever be happy again
  • Rejecting help.

When we need to put one foot in front of the other, and muscle through a situation, it’s great to be tough.

“I’m a New Yorker” inspires forward motion.   It says, “Go.”

But my dear New York, New Yorkers — and especially people who lead people — I love you.

So I want to remind you: we’re human.  We are tougher than we know.

And we’re also fragile.  So fragile.

You’ve heard this truth: if the cabin pressure should change…don your own oxygen mask before helping the person next to you.

So, stop.  Notice.   Eat well.   Exercise.   See what you can do to sleep well.  Offer yourself small kindnesses.

Listen to my friend Marjorie Nass and ease up on the comfort food.   Alcohol is a depressant — you might want to back off there, too.

Once you’ve stopped, once you’re breathing, you’ll be better equipped to evaluate how you can best serve those around you.

Stop, and then go.

Leaders, I have a strong network of stress management professionals in NY/NJ.

I’d love to connect you with people who can bring “lunch and learn”-style workshops to your office. Contact me!

Photo: Stop-Go, Lower Manhattan, 11/13. All rights reserved.

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